I think it is extremely unlikely that Cory Booker will be the Democratic nominee, and I don’t think on net he would be one of my top 3 choices. But he might be the best Democratic senator on criminal justice issues, and I hope he draws more attention to them by running:
Just about every Democratic candidate is expected, at this point, to voice some level of support for reversing mass incarceration, pulling back the war on drugs, and ending police brutality.
But Booker has been a steady leader on this issue. He introduced the most ambitious marijuana legalization bill at the federal level. He’s proposed several criminal justice reform bills, including measures that would target not just federal prisons but state and local ones too. And he’s even acknowledged that criminal justice reform should, at some point, move beyond helping only nonviolent offenders.
Simply put: Booker is often far ahead of other politicians, including those in his party, when it comes to criminal justice reform. In the 2020 Democratic primary, it’s one issue that could make him stand out.
That’s especially true because of who Booker’s likely opponents will be. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) already announced her candidacy — and she’s been snared by claims that she was a “tough on crime” prosecutor and attorney general, despite some of her genuine reform efforts. Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to enter the race too — and he has a lengthy record of supporting harsh criminal justice policies, including writing laws as a US senator from the 1980s to 2000s that created mandatory minimum prison sentences for drugs, encouraged more incarceration, and overall pushed the criminal justice system in a more punitive direction.
Booker, then, has an opportunity to open a left flank on criminal justice issues. Even if his presidential bid isn’t ultimately successful, his advocacy in this area could force the party to confront its history of supporting “tough on crime” policies — and the politicians behind those efforts, like Biden — and ultimately move Democrats in a more progressive direction on criminal justice.